The notary public is likely the oldest continuing branch of the legal profession existing throughout the world.
It has been said that the office of public notary has it's origin in the civil institutions of ancient Rome. These public officials, called "scribae", or scribes arose from the rank of transcribers or copiers to prominent professionals in private and public affairs. These officials were connected to the Senate and courts of law, where their duties included the recording of public proceedings, transcription of public papers, and supplier of legal forms to public magistrates, and registrar of the decrees and judgement of the magistrates. Near the end of the Republic, around the time of Cicero, a new form of shorthand was developed. This shorthand involved the use of arbitrary marks and "signs", called "notae", which were substituted for words in common use. An official who used this method was called a "notarius". A notary was one who took statements in this shorthand and later wrote them our in the form of memoranda or minutes. The title later evolved to "notarius" and was applied to registrars connected to high government officials such governors or secretaries to the Emperor.
After the collapse of the Empire, the notary remained a figure of some importance throughout the dark ages and into the renaissance era. From about the 12th century onward, the office of notary was established as a central institution of law, a position which still exists in countries whose legal systems are derived from civil law.
Notaries were introduced to common law England in the 13th and 14th centuries. Initially, notaries were appointed the Papal Legate (a personal representative of the Pope to the nations). In 1279, the Archbishop of Canterbury was authorized by the Pope to appoint notaries. Many of the notaries were members of the clergy.
At some point after the Protestant Reformation, the power of the Pope to appoint notaries transferred to the King (of King Henry VIII and his six wives fame - 1533), who later transferred it to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, who then transferred it to the Master of Faculties.
Traditionally, notaries recorded matters of judicial importance, private transactions, or events where an officially authenticated record or document drawn up by a professional with skill or knowledge was required.